Free and squeezy

FREEDIVING – IT’S BASICALLY SNORKELLING with good PR. It involves holding your breath, often to the point of semi-suffocation. What’s so free about that?

It wasn’t a question I’d often asked myself until I turned up for a shore-dive with an empty cylinder and a handful of misplaced optimism. The urge to submerge is still strong, even when everyone with a working compressor has shut up shop.

Scuba relies on the services of dive-shops and centres to provide you with something to breathe. Freediving has no such complication. As long as you have a mask and fins you can freedive. Game on!

The water temperature is a frisky 13°C, and I’m here with my drysuit. What could possibly go wrong?

“Tell me you’re not going snorkelling,” scoffs my companion as I start to push my feet into the boots of my drysuit.

Well, technically no, because I don’t have a snorkel. But I haven’t come on a three-hour drive from London only to return without getting wet.

A snorkel is unnecessary clutter as far as I’m concerned. When attached to your mask-strap it’s the diving equivalent of a trip hazard.

A snorkel stuffed down a knife-strap on your calf is invariably forgotten about. Until you’re back on the boat. Where you don’t need it.

A boat to jump off would come in handy right now. I shuffle down the stony slope of the beach and wade out through the waves to pull on my fins. This is so much easier without the weight of scuba-gear.

I fin away from the shore. Bobbing on the surface like a cork, I’m determined to visit the seabed. It must be down there somewhere. Vis isn’t great.

As soon as I duck-dive I feel the air in my suit migrating from my shoulders to my boots. My fins are in danger of popping off as I thrash and fight my way under water.

The seabed is literally in my face. I can practically stand up here.

DIVER August 2021

EMBARRASSED, I POP to the surface and hug myself fiercely to expel air from my suit as I fin further out to deeper water. My companion (shore cover) is shaking her head at my persistent foolishness.

Better not take too big a breath in… After another fight to leave the surface it’s barely five seconds to meet the seabed at around 6m. I have struggled to clear my ears and use up the last bit of breath to prevent my mask gouging a groove into my face.

My suit is shrink-wrapped tight; the zip is crucifying my shoulders. I can barely move my arms.

I take a quick look around as water seeps down my neck-seal. Pebbles, two shells, a rock. Needing to breathe, I rocket to the surface.

My dive-computer squeaks in dismay. Forgot to put it into Freedive mode. Forgot I even had a Freedive mode!

Determined that this shouldn’t be completely pointless, I try again. And again. Max depth 6.8m, max dive-time 32 seconds. All for a glimpse of seabed.

So I’m definitely a rubbish freediver. To me there’s no such thing as a free dive. Even the crease marks in the skin on my shoulders were paid for in pain.

Just charge me and let me breathe. Every time.